BFL Construction Honors 50 Years, Solid Growth
By Dave Perry
Over the course of five decades, BFL Construction has evolved from custom home builder, to tenant improvement expert, to builder of recognizable Tucson establishments in multi-family living, health care, industry and education.
Its corporate office was once a 6-by-7-foot, $42-a-month space on the sixth floor of a Tucson office building. Today, BFL’s classy, technologically equipped, two-story office on Broadway and its new office in Phoenix form a first-rate place for smart people to “go learn what we don’t know.”
That’s the challenge new BFL President David Eves puts in front of his management team.
“Every industry changes every day,” Eves said on a recent Monday morning in his Tucson office. “There’s always a new nugget to pick up.” The effects of technology alone on the construction business are exponential.
So, he asks: “What are the critical flaws in the thinking? One has to be willing to test their own assumptions. We have to stay out in front of it.”
Eves is one year into BFL leadership, building on its foundation of excellence, integrity and strong relationships while navigating a hyper-competitive, dynamic construction industry. He must serve different constituencies – customers, owners and employees. While it’s a lot to manage, he sees limitless opportunity.
“Fifty years is a huge accomplishment. We have a legacy to continue. Mr. (Garry) Brav left the company in a really good position. We’re positioned to do well,” Eves said, referencing BFL’s founding partner.
Big likes big
Eves said BFL Construction’s 2018 acquisition by the Canadian firm JV Driver Group helps propel the company into the future because it provides expanded resources and bonding capacity. Those abilities would have taken years to achieve.
“A lot of these Tucson companies, and there’s some really good ones, we’ve all struggled to build our bonding capacity,” Eves said. “If you’re companies bonding capacity is maxed, it can reduce your opportunities, particularly in the public sector.”
JV Driver affords BFL $1 billion in bonding capacity, Eves said. “That really can open up doors that were tough to push through in the past. They like to say, ‘big likes big.’”
Conversations about projects may not start with a contractor’s qualifications, but rather its financial ability. “Then, discuss whether you’re qualified to actually build it,” he said.
“Having the resources, with the right talent, the right people, the right team, and timing with bonding capacity, there’s a whole art to balancing all that,” Eves said. It requires “being selective on what you are going to go chase. Not all jobs are created equal, not all clients are created equal.”
Where BFL wants to go
BFL started into multi-family construction in 2003 with the successful and very profitable Finisterra project in Tucson. Multi-family has “grown to a large piece of our portfolio,” Eves said, and continues with current Tucson projects such as the 392-unit Solstice project near Topgolf, the Avilla single-story apartment communities, and a project for Bourn Companies in The Bridges.
That’s great work. And “the sky’s the limit for the foreseeable future,” Eves added.
But it’s imperative for BFL to diversify its portfolio. Eves wants to make a larger push into medical construction. “We had the medical community’s lion’s share of that market segmentation in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s in our core DNA of what BFL is.”
Further opportunities exist in the full array of market segments – defense, mining, retail, healthcare, industrial, educational, institutional and nonprofit customers. BFL is certainly capable of creating the “clean room” work needed by high technology, Eves said.
“There’s not really one lane,” he continued. “I challenge the executive team, if we’re migrating into one lane and staying in that lane, then are we just being lazy and not executing and pushing and stretching ourselves back into other segmentation?
“We cannot get comfortable in just one market segmentation,” Eves said. “The market will shift, and that’s not good if one is not predicting the predictable.
“We have a lot of families to take care of,” Eves said. “It’s a big responsibility. You don’t want to let your team down and not have a backlog of opportunities.”
Developing new business
To expand its reach, BFL has a new business development team working in both the Tucson and Phoenix markets. It’s an actual department, led by VP Alex Ortega, charged with the pursuit of new business.
He likens it to having a new race car in the garage. “Let’s go take it for a test lap,” and “test assumptions, recalibrate and relaunch. Wash, rinse and repeat. The pursuit of perfection. They’re going to be chasing all kinds of work.”
BFL is definitely encouraged by parent company JV Driver to grow beyond Arizona. “There’s an art in parachuting into other municipalities in other parts of the country,” Eves said. “There’s a way you do that organically, from hiring within. I’ve seen it more successful from the bottom up, grassroots, from hiring within that community, and that takes time.”
BFL now has 100 employees, half in Tucson, half in Phoenix. That workforce has doubled in the past 30 months. Those people work in the office as project administrators, engineers, coordinators and managers, and in the field as directors of operations and superintendents.
The need for talent is great, and the competition intense. Right now, in Maricopa County, there are more than 800 open project manager positions within Southern Arizona industries.
“Finding the talent and retaining the talent” is essential for BFL, Eves said. He believes the company has much to offer, in terms of culture, compensation, benefits, opportunities to advance, robust training, a commitment to the well-being of its team … and history. “Being in business 50 years gives some stability,” he said.
The company also has a good recruiting team. “Human resources is almost full-time in recruitment mode.”
Eves sees a generational gap within the construction industry, noting too few people ages 35 to 55.
“As an industry, it’s almost like we are a teaching institution now, because of the generational gap,” he said. Over the last half-century, most parents want their children to get an MBA, and not attend a trade school. So, as BFL recruits new employees, “we have to be willing to have a heavy mentoring culture, a teaching institution mentality,” Eves said.
Half of BFL’s employees are on job sites. “There is no working from home,” he said. For the other half, Eves believes, “there’s so much collaborative, ‘in the moment,’ real-time problem-solving” when people are together, in an office. “I’m a fan of having folks in person, but in the same breath, I don’t manage in absolutes or ultimatums. I’m open to when folks need to work from home, as related to the cadence within the employee’s family needs.”
Look around Eves’ office, and you’ll see two metal signs with one word – “Vigilance.” It relates to a paramount value – safety.
BFL Construction uses the “active vigilance” application as part of its safety program. An app, on the phone of every BFL superintendent, gives daily reminders for their constant attentiveness. At least once a day, superintendents are catching something in the moment of a safety concern.
But it’s not about constant harping on a negative. “We want to point out the good behavior, and celebrate the good behavior as well,” Eves said.
Safety is important as well to JV Driver and its chairman, Bill Elkington. “For him, the way he measures companies, he asks ‘What does your safety look like? What’s your culture?’” Eves said.
The BFL culture
“We’re here to take care of the people,” Eves said, and he is committed to a culture that does so while having fun along the way.
“By extension, we’re one big family,” he said. “We rise in one another’s successes and we get pulled down on each other’s failures. I tell the team, ‘Don’t look for pats on the back outside of these walls, we pat each other on the back in here.’”
BFL has a “think different/build better” program, challenging people to think of different ways to approach things. Team building is critical. That care extends to subcontractors, too.
“As a general contractor, we live and die by our subcontractors, aka Trade Partners,” Eves said. “We want to always be sure we’re maintaining good relationships with our Trade Partners who are performing well, and we’re always looking for new relationships.
“The volume of work is so large,” he said. “We have to be careful not to overload one relationship with too much work.”
As the company’s leader, Eves must think both short- and long-term. In the next two years, BFL must make “a focused push on market segmentation, and diversification,” he said. “That would be the minimum.”
“As a leader of an organization, you have to be thinking beyond 24 months,” while still making sure “everyone’s eating the vegetables on their plate today.”
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